Scientists Urge Action On Obesity In Women To Cut Risks To Babies

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Urgent strategies are needed to prevent girls and young women becoming obese because of the damaging long-term consequences for themselves and their babies should they become pregnant, say scientists involved in a major European research project.

The children of obese mothers may be more likely to develop heart disease, have a stroke or develop type 2 diabetes, say researchers presenting the first results from the Dorian consortium, which is funded by the European commission and has been running for three years so far. Other researchers found that children of obese mothers may suffer mood disorders in adulthood.

A team from the University of Helsinki found that people whose mothers had been obese in late pregnancy had a greater likelihood of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. The data was taken from more than 13,000 people who had been followed from their birth in the 1930s and 40s to the present.

Further analysis of the data for 90 mothers and their offspring found that the children’s body weight and cardiac development was influenced not just by the pre-pregnancy weight but by the weight she gained during pregnancy. Weight gain between pregnancies was also a factor.

“The period of pregnancy – even the very last period – is fundamental. Intensive efforts should be devoted to monitor lifestyle during pregnancy and optimise the mother’s metabolic profile at delivery,” said consortium lead Dr Patricia Iozzo, of the Institute of Clinical Physiology at Italy’s National Research Council.

The importance of a healthy diet during pregnancy was highlighted by a study by researchers at the University of Edinburgh which found that the placenta of mothers eating a high-fat low-micronutrient diet offered weakened protection to the foetus against the stress hormone cortisol. This can reduce foetal growth, with the offspring more likely to suffer mood disorders in adulthood. 

“The two most important messages to pregnant women from these findings are that they should have a healthy diet and lifestyle during pregnancy, ” said professors Rebecca Reynolds and Megan Holmes, who led the team at Edinburgh.

Iozzo has called on policymakers to draft guidelines for diet during pregnancy.

Louise Silverton, director for midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives, said women should try to be an ideal weight before they become pregnant. “This report adds more to our knowledge about the importance of the environment in which the foetus is nurtured,” she said.

“After birth, women need support to develop healthy patterns of eating and exercise for themselves and their family. For women who are overweight or obese they need support and signposting to access weightloss services to ensure that they are an ideal weight before they embark on their next pregnancy.”